I did wonder, with some trepidation, what a whole book on Manx Shearwaters might be. For sure, they are wonderful birds, as are all birds, and certainly they make remarkable journeys across the oceans, but they come to land to nest on remote islands at night and live down burrows. But I needn’t have worried as this is a very good read and it isn’t all about Manx Shearwaters, though, if you are interested in this lovely seabird, you will find lots of facts, and very up-to-date facts, about it in these pages.
There is, in my opinion, a very engaging and clever Prologue which had a novel look at avian vagrancy and told me something about this bird that as a birder I didn’t know and which got my attention. That first chapter got me hooked, and the second kept me hooked and then we were off.
And we were off around the world on boats and planes to look for and find the Manxie in many parts of the Atlantic Ocean. We yomped with the author, threw up with the author and his companions, went to bars with the author and got cold and wet with the author. He has an Eric-Newby-like easy style and the ability to share his hopes and fears without sounding at all up himself.
The star of the book, however, for me, is not the Manx Shearwater (who is a star anyway), nor the author (and this book persuades me I would like his other books) but the author’s grandma. She is certainly depicted as a character, and a character with whose views I would often part company, but she seems like a kind and interesting person with whom one could have great conversations. Also, her relationship with Peter ‘The Cat’ Bonetti had me scrabbling for Wikipedia to discover whether this could possibly be true, and it seems it could. Amazing!
This is a book that birders will enjoy because it is stitched together around a fairly amazing bird, but if you’ve never heard of shearwaters you will still get a lot out of this book if you are interested in nature, in adventures, in foreign parts, in landscapes or in people.
I’d take with a pinch of salt with some of the author’s opinions on nature conservation but there aren’t many of these.
The cover? Attractive and workmanlike – 6 out of 10.
I recommend this as a good read.
Shearwater: a bird, an ocean and a long way home by Roger Morgan-Grenville is published by Icon books